Dr. Mary Walker Wednesdays

Getting ready to launch a new book can be a bit nerve-racking, even in the best of times. I don’t think it’s too dramatic to point out that these are not the best of times. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and I am very grateful to all the health care professionals, grocery store workers, public safety officials, and anyone else involved in pulling us through this medical crisis.

Today is National Medal of Honor Day.

Image result for national medal of honor

Only one American woman, Dr. Mary Walker, the subject of my forthcoming book, has ever received this commendation. It was awarded in 1865 in recognition of the service she rendered in the Civil War. Each Wednesday in these weeks leading up to the book’s publication, I’ll post the first sentence from a chapter along with an image that reflects something that happens in the chapter. Hopefully, these snippets will intrigue you enough to want to read the book.

Chapter One: Getting to Washington

In the early fall of 1861, Dr. Mary Walker, a twenty-nine-year-old dedicated reformer and passionate supporter of the Union, went to Washington, DC.

(Washington, D.C. train station image from Washington Historical Society)


Sifting Through, Weeding Out, and Tossing

With retirement imminent, I have a campus office to clean out and a house to put up for sale. That means getting rid of lots of stuff. That means finally throwing away notes, photocopies, and assorted research materials I’ve accumulated over the course of teaching for twenty-five years and writing three books.

Image result for overstuffed file cabinet(STUFFology 101)

Three books in twenty-five years. Looking back, that doesn’t seem like a lot. Then I remind myself that I wrote those books while I taught a 4-4 load, with about 155 students per semester and no teaching assistants. Plus I had committee work. And a family.

From my study at home, I sifted through stacks of papers that had been sitting on various books shelves, chairs, and even on my desk. I threw away (well, actually recycled) several grocery bags full of stuff. I felt a little guilty at the thought that maybe another historian might find some of these items useful. But only a little guilty. Tracking down the research is half the fun of writing books. I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone else of that thrill by making it too easy.

In my campus office, I’ve mostly pitched course materials. Those have been easy to toss since they are all available electronically, should I ever need them again. All of the knowledge that went into crafting lectures and class discussions doesn’t need to exist in physical form anymore.

Today I went through an old file of correspondence (actual letters, some of it, and a few printed out emails) from the mid-1990s. That could have been labeled the Failure File. It’s where I collected my first rounds of rejections for a book and for several articles.

(not one of my rejections)

I didn’t spend too much time reading through the correspondence before consigning it to the recycling bin. But I did smile when I came across an email exchange I’d had with a very prominent “second wave” feminist who was crazy about what I thought would be my first book. She hadn’t read the actual manuscript; I’d only told her what it was about. She thought it was wonderful and important and was sure it would find a good publishing home. It didn’t. But I think her encouragement helped me move beyond that project and led me to write the three books that did get published.

It’s true that writers work through rejections. It’s never pleasant, only a fact of the writing life. But it’s balanced by the encouragement–unexpected and otherwise–that you get along the way.



Reflections on a Bookversary

One year ago today, Angels of the Underground launched into the reading world.

Image result for book launchBookBaby.com

It’s been an exciting year, and not because Angels is my first book. It’s my third–the final volume of my historical trilogy of the wartime Philippines.

Rather, it was exciting because this was my first book to be shopped by an agent and sold to a big publisher. (The whole process, including writing the actual book, took years.) I received an advance. I did not quit my day job.

Angels attracted more attention than my previous books. There was a review in Publishers Weekly. The Midwest Independent Booksellers Association selected Angels as a January 2016 Midwest Connections Pick. Vick Mickunas interviewed me for his Book Nook show on WYSO. I appeared on various blogs: Daily History, RA for All, Historiann, and History News Network. There were fun posts for Campaign for the American Reader.

I was invited to be part of a World War II symposium at the MacArthur Memorial, and C-SPAN was there to film it.

I was also invited to write a Five Best Books column for the Wall Street Journal.

Bookmarks! I had bookmarks made to hand out at events and just to hand out.


Looking forward into 2017, I’ll be giving a few more talks about Angels to different audiences. While I continue to promote the book, I’ll be working on a new one that will most likely center on women and war.

Two things I recommend about promotion. Have a book launch party.

Book Launch InvitationZazzle.com

Whether you host it yourself or have someone do it on your behalf, have one. It’s the best, most festive way of introducing your book to its potential reading audience.

Hand out bookmarks.¬†Readers always need bookmarks. (Well, unless they read exclusively on e-readers.) These are relatively inexpensive yet useful “swag” items. Make use of both sides of the bookmark. For mine, one side was based on the book cover (see above) and the other provided contact and purchasing information. A good bookmark should sell you and your book.





More on the Writing Life of a Historian

For historians who research, write, and publish, the entire process can take years. First you think of a topic. Then you poke around to find out what’s been done and what’s still left to do. You figure out what you can bring to it that will be fresh and interesting and that will matter.

Image result for thinking person painting

Then you research and you start writing. Somewhere along the way you start talking to people about what you’re working on. You get advice (some good, some not so much), you get encouragement (some enthusiastic, some not so much).

You keep writing. Then you ask people you know and trust for feedback. You rethink, you revise.

You keep writing. Then you have a finished manuscript and it’s time to find a publisher.

I love success stories. My current favorite is Megan Kate Nelson’s. You should read her wonderful article about how she secured her book contract. And not to take any drama away from her story, there was bidding involved. Bidding! That’s one of the things that puts the cherry on the top of the years-long effort to write a book–more than one publisher wants the book and they are willing to pay a steep price to get it.

Image result for people bidding at an auction painting

So, with eyes on the prize, I continue to work on my book proposal.



Launching a New Book Project

I’m not a fast writer. When I hear authors talk about how it took them two or three long years to write a book, I struggle to hide my reaction.

I can take two or three years to research a book. Even then, research continues as I start writing.

Since Angels of the Underground was published last December, I’ve been casting about for a new project. I really wanted to return to one I’d started before Angels, but every time I raised the subject with my agent, she was skeptical. I was amazed at how quickly she could run down a list of concerns about the commercial viability of the project.

Although my day job is as an academic historian, I want to write books that will sell well. I figure if I invest so much in creating them, I’d like to see a material return on that investment.

I spent the early part of the summer working on an abbreviated book proposal, to clearly map out for my agent my vision for the project she was skeptical about. And she still wasn’t convinced.

So it wasn’t until this month that I started pitching other projects.

And one stuck. A very good one, we both believe. It’s another story of a group of “ordinary” American women who make an extraordinary contribution to a U.S. war effort. (No more details at this point. I don’t want to jinx it.)

I’ve started work on the book proposal, which will end up at around 50 pages of overview, market analysis, and chapter synopses. Then it will go out on submission in hopes of finding an editor who thinks the book is as exciting as we do.

Stay tuned. It may be a long haul.